Sept. 30, 2005 — -- Fantasia Barrino began singing at the age of 5. At 19, she became an "American Idol" winner. Her first album, "Free Yourself," was released in November 2004 and shortly after went platinum.
But life wasn't always easy for the talented singer. She was raped by a high school boyfriend, became pregnant as a teenager, and raised her daughter as a single mother. Now Fantasia reveals that she was also functionally illiterate.
In her new book, "Life Is Not a Fairy Tale," Fantasia talks about her struggles but also about her faith in God, family and the talent that propelled her to stardom.
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
The Bible and my mother always say, "To whom much is given, much is required." That is how I live my life – now. But it wasn't always that way. For most of my young life, much was not given. Maybe this saying means that much hardship has to be given before receiving the blessings that God intends. A lot has been required. But my experiences have shown me that the amount of pain you endure will eventually result in abundance, as long as you stay faithful.
Faith is a legacy for many women in my family, as are the legacies of teen pregnancy, being single mothers, emotional and physical abuse, and poverty. We have all survived it because of the church and our powerful belief in God and prayer. All of the women in my family have had too many experiences for their years, and we seem much older than we are. Most people are surprised that I'm only twenty-one years old. But what seems mature and experienced is just me trying to survive. I have learned and seen a lot in my twenty-one years, but I still have a lot to learn. You will see that as you learn more about Fantasia.
People often ask me: Who is the real Fantasia? The answer is: What you see is what you get. I would consider myself a very sensitive, outgoing person, and I hope that shows in everything I do and how I treat everyone around me. I care very much about people, probably too much – and I fall in love too easily, as you will see. I am just a country girl who loves the Lord and loves to have a good time. I still kick off my shoes every chance I get – even on TV!
Like all southern folk, I like to have a good time. Country people have had too many bad times, and so we make a good time whenever we can. Although my family lived in High Point, North Carolina, which is technically a small city, we say that this is the country because we have seen big cities like L.A. and New York on TV. Country people place a lot of importance on their families. We rely on our families for every little thing like emotional support, takin' care of our kids, feeding us when we're hungry, or paying our electric bill when we lose our jobs. That's why family is so important to country folks. That's why when you go to the country you will see aunts and uncles living under the same roof with their mothers and other adults. That's why so many grandmothers raise their grandkids when the mothers are too young to handle it. Country folks are really different from city folks because the city folks seem ashamed to tell their families when they are having hard times. For us, hard times are just a way of life. That's the main difference between country folk and city folk that you should know when you read the rest of my story. There is no shame with families like mine. If there was, there would be no families where I come from.
Despite the turmoils and troubles I've had in my life, the things that have always been constants were my mother's support and love. Even when she couldn't be there for me, she kept me lifted in prayer. When I was a teenager and was goin' through so many hardships, my mother was always with me. Really, she is me in many ways.
But let me explain by starting at the beginning.
My forty-two-year-old mother, Diane Barrino, is a self-proclaimed "country girl" who got pregnant as a teenager. She was nineteen years old. I would say that in some ways, she was luckier than me, and in other ways, I was luckier than her. You'll see as you read my story that much hardship has been required of both of us.
My mother was also raised in the church because her mother, Addie Collins, is a pastor. Just like me, my mother got pregnant by a guy in the church. Of course, she was a singer too and a member of the choir. It was her love of music that brought her together with my father, Joseph. He was in the church quartet and had been asking a lot of questions about my mama. He finally got her phone number, and they started dating. My mother tells us kids that she didn't like my father at first. Mom fell in love with him when she heard him sing. He was able to teach my mother a lot about music because, despite loving it so much, she didn't know anything except how to sing. In her early days, my mother was a baad singer. She was raw. She could squall, and her cry sounded like an old woman with many years of grief and wisdom in her spirit.
My mother did have some grief in her past: My grandfather, who was originally from South Carolina, was an alcoholic and abused my grandmother. Grandfather Neil eventually left my grandmother and she was left to raise her three daughters on her own. Grandma Addie's oldest was also named Addie; then there was Diane (my mama), and Surayda. My Grandma Addie had the same dreams for my mother that my mother had for me. Addie's dream was that my mother would go to music school. Right before my mother's pregnancy, Addie had taken her to look at music schools, and they hoped that she would get a scholarship.
Addie had always warned my mother, if you get pregnant you won't be able to follow your dream and become a singer. You won't get to do what the other girls do like go to the movies. And, if you get pregnant, Addie warned, "You will be on your own – no man will help you, and I don't have much to help you with either."
Within twelve months of my parents meeting, my older brother, Kassim VonRico Washington, was born. We call him Rico for short. At the time, my parents were not married, and so his last name is my mother's maiden name. After Rico was born, my mother got a job working in the cafeteria at the Presbyterian Nursing Home while Addie took care of Rico.
Then, eleven months later, my other brother, Joseph, who is named after my father, was born. His nickname is Tiny. That is all we have ever called him.
Family rumor has it that my father's family has Cuban lineage, which would explain my last name – kind of unusual for a black southern man from North Carolina. My father, JoJo, was more gracious than my own "baby daddy." He actually agreed to marry my mother and take care of their two sons. That's why I sometimes say that Mama was luckier than me.
The marriage must have been going well enough because three years later I was born, making the Barrino family five. Grandma Addie was a strong supporter of my parents, sometimes financially, but mostly helping when my mama didn't have enough food for her kids. Most importantly, Addie will go down in history as the woman who crowned me with the crazy name, Fantasia. My grandmother got the name from the Princess House line of fine crystal and gifts. The Fantasia line was supposed to be one of the fancier lines of the gifts. Perhaps my grandmother knew something that I didn't know about how I would turn out.
My parent's marriage was still going strong because nine years later, the Barrino family became six when my mother had my little brother, Xavier. When we kids were small, my mother worked several odd jobs trying to pay the family's seventy-dollar-a-month rent. She worked at hospitals, daycare centers, and sang for anyone in the church who would ask her to sing at their family weddings and funerals.
My father was a truck driver and was away a lot of the time, also tryin' to make ends meet. They struggled along to pay the utility bill, asking for help from whoever had it that month. Even though my father was not at home much, he had a presence in our house. I loved my father because he stayed. Most of the kids who lived around us didn't have daddies. The daddies had left, were in jail, or dead. My father seemed to have so much power in anything he did. I will never forget the sound of his boots walking down the hall in the morning. That sound always made me feel secure and that we were better off than the other kids because we had a daddy. I remember secretly watching him from the crack of the bathroom door, which he left open as he shaved. He was always wearing jeans and an undershirt. I thought my daddy was the most handsome man in the world, and I remember watching him worry about every wavy black hair, making sure they were perfect. My father always smelled good, and the strong smell of his aftershave would linger long after he had left the house. His smell just put fear and discipline into my heart and kept me on my best behavior until he came back. All he had to do to discipline me was to look at me. When he was coming home from off the road, we just all knew that the king had arrived.
High Point, North Carolina, is about an hour and a half north of Charlotte. We moved several times to Charlotte and Winston-Salem, neighboring cities that sometimes had better opportunities for my father. We always came back to High Point, though. High Point is actually a very small city with less than 100,000 residents. It is most famous for the furniture outlets where both rich and middle-class people come to buy furniture at wholesale prices. High Point's downtown area is sprinkled with furniture strip malls, and in between the small wood-frame and shingled houses throughout the city, there are churches with names that I will never forget, like Charity Baptist Church, Living Water Baptist Church, Church of Christ, and Galilean Missionary Church. Faith and furniture are the main resources in High Point, North Carolina.
People from High Point are not usually rich. It is a city of workin' folks, and the only money that comes into the city is the money from the bargain hunters looking for furniture. Most people in High Point don't have a lot to be proud of, but they do take pride in being from the furniture capital.
As you drive toward High Point north from Charlotte, the first city is Thomasville, named after the famous furniture manufacturer. The very next city along Interstate 85 is High Point. Although High Point is a major destination throughout the South, it still has a two-lane road as if the city is afraid that one day the people will stop comin'. As you enter High Point, you can feel the pressure of the city as you're trapped in a traffic jam. The first local spot that you see on 85 North heading into High Point is the Paradise Hotel, which people say is where the drug addicts stay when they've been evicted. My friends used to call High Point the "Land of the Dead," because it was so hard for people to get their voices heard, musically or otherwise. Now, as you cross the city line, there is a billboard of my face that says "Saluting High Point's American Idol, Fantasia Barrino." I still have a hard time looking at it because I can't believe it's there. There is a lot of musical talent in High Point, but no one ever seems to get out far enough to show it to the world or to get a billboard. Most of the people that I knew there ended up strung out on drugs, became drunks, went to jail, had too many kids, or died.
Now, when I drive through the streets of High Point, I'm always happy to see the same old men sitting on the side of Washington Street, drinkin' and tryin' to have a good time. They make me remember that just a few years ago that was Rico, Tiny, and me playing outside with no shoes on. I remember when some of those drunk men used to stumble by when they had their bottle of gin already and an extra dollar and would say, "Come on over here and sing me a song, and I will give you a dollar." I used to stop whatever I was doing, sing the men a song, and get a dollar to buy candy at the Candy Lady who was parked on the corner. Since I was five, singing has always been my life and my livelihood. Ain't nothin' changed.
People are poor in High Point because there are not a lot of jobs. If you don't work in a furniture showroom, a hospital, a school, a nursing home, High Point University, a restaurant, or a gas station, there isn't really much more to do. Like I said, my mother worked many jobs to support us. My mother struggled along with Grandma basically raising Rico while she worked and my father was out on the road. After Tiny was born, my father started making more of an effort to take care of his family. My father still wanted to be involved with singing and so did my mother, despite having two little boys. My parents would sing at any opportunity that came to them.
The grandchildren called my father's father "PaPa." PaPa was a singer, too. He was around during the time of the Chitlin' Circuit. The Chitlin' Circuit was a tour route that was only for black artists and it was only in the South. It was the only place that a black singer could get a gig. It was hard on the Chitlin' Circuit, because although it was designed for black singers, it was still the South and sometimes bad things happened to the musicians that were travelin' in the South. PaPa never got over that. He has a lot of anger and no trust for the music industry, so he wouldn't let his sons leave and try to earn a living as musicians. The older brothers rebelled and went anyway, but my father, the youngest, was not allowed to go. The Barrino Brothers consisted of my Uncle Perry, Uncle Jute, and Uncle Nate. They traveled all around the Carolinas singin' and makin' music. All of my grandfather's boys, including my young father, were so in love with music. I don't think my father ever got over not being able to sing with his brothers and his anger over that motivated him to make his own band and put me where I am today.
My earliest memory of music was when I was about five years old. My parents used to sing at weddings and they would take us along. Their big wedding song was Natalie Cole's "Inseparable." They used to sing it and it sounded so good to me. All kinds of feelings would wash over me when I heard them singin' that song. I would watch them and I could actually feel the love that song was tryin' to express. It made me think that being married was a great thing.
Rico and I would imitate them in the bathroom at home. We would imitate all the facial expressions and hand gestures. We would stand up on the toilet and make sure our facial expressions made us look like our parents. My brother used to practice putting his hand underneath my chin, just like my father used to do to my mother.
One day, my parents heard us imitating them and came to see our bathroom show. They were impressed, and the next time they sang at a wedding, my father introduced Rico and me as the "couple" who was going to perform "Inseparable." We were shocked that my father did that, but we had practiced it so much in the bathroom, we just knew we could do it. I remember walking to the microphone. I was nervous at first. Remember, I was just five. I looked over at Rico, and he smiled at me and made me feel better. The first note that I hit made the bathroom scene come to life for me and I was no longer nervous. The further along in the song we got, the more I could feel the audience's reaction.
People were amazed at how good we sounded. My father got so many compliments that he decided to put the family together and form a group. We were called the Barrino Family. We toured the Carolinas and other cities in the South, blessing church services, revivals, and concert halls with our sweet harmonies and moving lyrics. The Barrino Family was famous for the little five-year-old girl with a grown woman's voice. That was me – 'Tasia. People used to tell my parents they couldn't believe that such a big voice was comin' out of such a little girl! I sometimes think all of my mother's dreams for her musical career were rolled up into my big voice. A voice that was given to me by God.
In the band, my dad played bass and directed us kids, and my mom wrote the songs and gave us the key to sing in. I was the one who wanted to sing all the time. I never complained. I was too young to understand all of the details of being on the road and needing money to sustain us. All I knew was that I was a singer and that meant everything to me – even when I was five. Singing was the only place I ever wanted to be. Rico also loved singing, but Tiny had another idea about being on stage. Tiny always wanted to be "cool," and he felt that he couldn't go to school and be cool the next day with a reputation of being in his family's gospel group.
My father was a perfectionist and struggled with creating a band with three kids as the key members. His perfectionism was hard for us to deal with, and he was equally frustrated by our childish imperfection. We would practice the songs every day until they were just right. He would make us stay up until one and two in the morning, until the song was just how he wanted it to be. He was equally hard on all of us if we weren't perfectly clean and neat or if one hair was out of place. And when he came home, if the house wasn't spotless, I would get into big trouble. My father needed everything to be perfect: the music, the house, and his appearance. It used to take my father three hours to get dressed. I remember him being so clean-cut and well dressed. I still love to see a well-dressed man. All of my father's unfulfilled childhood dreams seemed to have been haunting him and making him mean. When we would perform, Rico and I did everything we could to do our best – if for no other reason than just so we didn't disappoint Daddy. I always remember that look on his face when he was happy. His face shined with pride and ownership.
Whenever we would have a bad performance, I remember my father fussin'. He would say angrily, "You need to do better. Remember your notes!" Tiny was always in trouble. But Tiny never cared about my father's reaction, so he would come to the stage with a hairbrush and start brushing his hair on stage in the middle of a song. Rico and I were always too scared to do anything like that. I will never forget when Tiny took that brush out and started brushin' one time and my father went to the stage and smacked him on his head.
Only once do I remember him being mad at something that I did. I poked my lips out and acted mad in front of other people. My father popped me. I was so upset because I never did anything wrong. I was so ashamed of getting a beating in public. It never happened again.
We continued performing and were becoming known as the family that could sing. We traveled whenever we could, just for the exposure. We went to Alabama, Mississippi, throughout the Carolinas. We appeared in churches, in revivals, at fairgrounds, and anywhere else that wanted us. Sometimes we didn't have enough money to pay for food and we would eat Vienna sausages and chips and call it a night. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we would sleep at someone's house from the church that we were visiting. Other times we would just sleep in the van. I never complained because I was doin' what I wanted to do – sing. I can still see myself in the mirror with my pretty church dresses, white stockings, and Shirley Temple curls all over my head.
As I started to grow up, I realized that I had a gift. I began to understand that the purpose of our music was no longer to satisfy my father, but to glorify God. Every time I took the microphone, my intention was to give my gift back to God. My singing started savin' souls and changin' lives. By the time we left a church, people would be shoutin' in the aisles, givin' praise to God, singin' and prayin'. I noticed even young people were being moved by my gift.
We were blessed early on. A record company based in the South approached us. But my father had been too quick to sign the contract. His childhood dreams were causing him to act without thinking. The rest of us didn't know enough or were too young to question his decisions, although they sounded a little fishy to my mother, who had warned him not to sign anything. My father signed anyway. We finally started seeing a little bit more money, but when the CDs came out, there was no mention of my mother as songwriter for any of the songs, and she had written them all. Someone else's name was listed as the songwriter and, because my father had signed the papers, there was nothing that we could do except watch our money go to someone else. My mother was too hurt even to speak about it since she had told him not to sign the deal. We had been taken. We were running out of money, quickly, and at the same time, our records were playing on the radio every day and our albums were selling out throughout the Carolinas. We were getting bookings, but we had no band because we had gained a reputation for not payin'. No one would work for free.
The last band that we had disappeared. They missed several rehearsals. Finally, they came over one night to apologize for their recent absences and to break the news that they had signed with Universal Records and were going on the road with a signed artist. It was a depressing time for the Barrino Family.
We had no money, but we were blessed with my mother's brother, Uncle Sonny, who always helped us when we most needed it. Uncle Sonny could always be relied on to get us some tuna sandwiches and French fries or some fried bologna or some money to pay a bill.
My brother Tiny finally got the nerve up when he was thirteen years old to tell my father that he didn't want to sing with the family anymore. He left the group to start working on his own musical interest in R&B. Rico left the group when he was fifteen for the same reason. He formed a group called Infinity Three. I didn't leave; I wasn't going anywhere.
We got more singers, and we recorded an album. I was twelve years old then. The album was called "Miracles," and that's what it was.
Soon after, we kids really started pullin' away from the family. The boys had already left the band, and I was starting to be out with my friends. My mother, upset by the bad deal that my father made, was fallin' deeper and deeper into depression. My father was not supporting her – or us – at all. As hard as times were in that house, I still have good memories of that time because music lived in 511 Montlieu Avenue with us. It was the place where everyone in the neighborhood would gather to sing. Family members and neighbors would come over and sing. People who couldn't sing would come over to our house to sing. Our house was the popular house and although we struggled – sometimes eatin' grits every night for a week – we had good times. We all grew up listening to different types of music. Old music was the music with the joy in it. As children, my parents had us listening to Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, and Christian groups like Paul Porter and the Christianaires. We were learning to recognize scatting and riffs and squalling. We could all point out a good riff. We knew how to harmonize and sing bass, alto or tenor. All of my father's siblings were singers, and music was the legacy that he gave us.
My family sang because it was replacing all the things that we wanted and needed and didn't have. Music was our bread and water. Our next-door neighbor was an older woman, and she used to come over and say, "Y'all are making so much noise, but I am not going to call the police, because your singin' is blessin' my soul."
To this day, my mother says how amazed she is at my talent and how God's spirit fills me. The only way she describes how music first came into my life is: "When 'Tasia started singing, she was always singin' and cryin', singin' and cryin'."
That has not changed a bit.
Our first church started in my grandmother's basement. My mother told me that Grandma Addie was beaten to a pulp by her drunken husband. She had three daughters who also had children too young, and she was worried about her own soul and the soul of her family. She decided that she had to do something. Grandma Addie prayed and asked the Lord to set her family straight. As Grandma tells it, the Lord told her to open the door of her house to let the Holy Spirit in. God spoke to my grandmother in a vision of a church in the basement of her house.
My grandmother lived in a small, red-brick house with sagging wood floors. The basement had a separate entrance from the back of the house, and the congregation would use that door to enter the church. My family would enter through the door in the hallway that led down to the basement. We had about eleven members initially, and my family made it eighteen in total.
What finally became the church had been the carport before my grandmother had the vision. One day she met a man at the produce market and she was telling him about her vision for the church and the young man happened to be a contractor. He told my grandmother, "I think I can help you do that, Miss Addie." A couple of days later he came to the house, measured it out, and he created a room that would eventually host the Holy Ghost. Because it was the carport, the heating and plumbing were all exposed, and my grandmother couldn't afford to change the ceiling, so she just left it. She was blessed to be able to install heating and cooling eventually. But back then, the humid North Carolina summers were hotter than hell in that church. The exposed insulation on the ceiling meant the congregation had to duck down to sit in certain seats.
My grandmother had bought a wooden cross that she draped with purple velvet, which she had seen in the initial vision of the church. The cross was placed in front of the furnace. As my grandmother says, "We're havin' chu'ch in there!"
The phrase "havin' chu'ch" reminds me of when the Bible says that when two or three are gathered, God is in the midst. All of us believe that strongly. When we have our "chu'ch," we're just praising God with our love and our actions toward each other. And we are always prayin' about something and singing. Prayer is just our norm as a family.
Back then, when the eleven members started telling their friends about the Holy Spirit who made it to my grandma's house every Sunday, we had to move into a storefront because the home church wouldn't hold that many people. Less than a year after the storefront, we had grown to about 100 or 150 members. Then even more people started comin' and wantin' to be a part of Mercy Outreach, which is what my Grandma Addie named her church. The word on the streets of High Point was that Mercy Outreach was the church of the Barrino Family. Everyone wanted to be blessed by our voices. Finally, we were able to move the church again, this time into a real church building with a sign out front with my grandmother's name as pastor and my mother's name as the associate pastor. The church has cushioned pews instead of the white folding chairs and a pulpit that would make any preacher proud. The church grew to be about 250 members.
The church is my grandmother's heart. Because there was a lot of drama, as there sometimes is in the black church, we started losin' members after about a year. People started leaving because of all the talk of sinnin' that was goin' on. There was talk about my father and how he was dating some of the women in the church. Baptists don't like to be involved with a sinnin' church. They think just being near sin will mess up their chance of gettin' into Heaven. There was a lot of talk and gossip about the church and around the church, while Sunday services kept gettin' smaller and smaller. The contents of the tithing basket were also getting smaller. Suddenly the mortgage payments were getting further and further apart. My grandma was stressin' because she thought she would be failing God if she lost the church. She continued to pray and put Mercy Outreach back into God's hands, where it belonged.
As I got older, I used to pray to God that if He would raise me out of my situation, I would bless my grandmother with the money she needed to save Mercy Outreach. God answered my prayer by blessing me with "American Idol," and my grandma's church still stands today.
Being in church was – and still is – my most peaceful place. When I'm there, I go over a lot of things in my mind. If I have any worries or stress. I let them all go the moment that I walk into the church. Church is also the place where music came to life for me. It was the place I could have a good time, hear good music, and clap my hands.
All this shoutin', witnessin', and praisin' all looked normal to me as a child. My family talks about how my mother was shoutin', prayin', and singin' when she had me in the womb. People used to say she was going to shout that baby right out! Even though I could be a part of everyone singin' and praisin' God, I still had to experience it within. One Sunday, when I was around five or six, I was up singin' and something just hit my body. It was like a violent strike to my soul. I didn't know what it was. I couldn't explain it. The feeling took me to my knees. I don't know what I looked like kneeling up there with that feeling rushing through me like warm water. I will never forget it. I asked my mother what had happened, and I remembered her saying, "You have the Holy Ghost. You now have a relationship with God." She was right. That was my very first love affair. I was anointed. That anointing made me see that music was my gift. Back then, church and music and God were all connected as one. By recognizing that God was within me when he gave me my voice, I finally knew that I was special.
Praisin' God with song is the main reason for bein' in the Holiness Church in the first place. Holiness is the only way I know how to be. When someone feels the presence of the Holy Spirit, they need to let it out! Sometimes, the spirit makes us run up the aisles of the church; sometimes it makes us sit still and cry; sometimes it makes us faint. I have fainted. But most of the time it just makes me do my dance, the BoBo.
People who have never experienced Holiness often ask me, "What is it like?" I get that question a lot. Holiness is not somethin' that I can easily describe, but because I'm tellin' it all, I'll try my best.
When I walk into the church, I'm always moved by the sense of order in the room. Church is the only place that people seem to act like they have some respect. Everyone is always dressed neatly and modestly. The walls of the sanctuary are starch white, like new Easter clothes. The mahogany pews are always polished in anticipation of the high emotions that will fly around them, wetting them with sweat and tears. The same wooden cross that was part of that first basement church is hangin' right there at the pulpit. It's draped with the same purple velvet that Grandma saw in her vision. The pulpit is small, with six white upholstered chairs arranged in a semicircle where the ministers sit. The choir sings below the pulpit when they are called. The church has an impressive sound system and features a bandstand, which shows that music is a part of my family's ministry and is a part of every aspect of our family's life.
Once I sit down, I carry on – shoutin', praisin', and doing my BoBo. I always carry on that way when I'm in church. It's the only place that I feel free enough to let myself loose. The wood pews are a comfort to me when I fall in exhaustion at the power of the spirit in the church.
During the praise and worship service, people who are feeling somethin' come up and speak about what had happened to them during the last week. They discuss a health problem that has been resolved or a new diagnosis that has scared them and talk about how they are afraid that they're goin' to die. They mention family members who are in trouble, sick, or who have died. Most importantly, they speak about what God had done for their life in the last seven days. They talk about the ways that God has healed and solved a problem and had strengthened them to handle whatever it was.
At that point, I always cry. Everyone in the congregation, including me, listens and agrees with the power of God. Hearing these stories relieves my stress and everyone else's. It makes me feel that I'm not alone in my struggles. It makes me feel the need to say something out loud. Some say, exuberantly, "Yes, God!" or "Praise the Lord!" I say in agreement, "Yes, He did!"
Within several minutes, after the opening songs have been sung and the visitors have been welcomed, the feeling in the air escalates and everyone is thinkin' about how God has helped them or healed them. Everyone in the room is thinkin' of their own miracles that God has performed. My mother used to tell me that she would always think about me and how God had shown me and our whole family favor, despite the mistakes that we have made.
Looking around the sanctuary and seeing women and children cryin' and grown men runnin' up and down the aisles of the church as if they were runnin' for their life – or runnin' from their demons – always moves me. It shows me how fragile we all are. Graying women put down their crutches and jump up and down as though they were exercising. Women sitting next to me begin to shake and quake. I would see them tumbling to the ground. Beads of sweat drench everybody's foreheads. A woman in a white nursing uniform once pushed me aside to comfort a fallen woman, while I yearned for the breeze of the white blanket to be fanned over my wet head, too.
People scream and shout around me. There are clusters of people behind me repeating: "Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, Lord …" as though they are under a spell. Another chorus from the front is chanting, "Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord." A younger woman two rows ahead of me is repeating, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" The musicians in the front of the pulpit are playing a tune that is hyper and jubilant, yet everyone is cryin' and fallin' down. I hear unintelligible phrases coming out of my own mouth – that is me speaking directly to God, but others call it "speaking in tongues."
People are losing their balance all around me. Some are humbled and on their knees. Others are sitting in their seats upright and calm. A young girl is waving her arms like she will fly away. I feel myself going in and out of consciousness. I stand up with new energy and find myself running in place, with my shoulders hunched and my arms in the running position. My fists are balled up as if I'm beginning to box. I have a smile on my face that is blinding. I am doing the BoBo.
The minister, my grandma Addie, comes to the center of the pulpit with the comforting clouds that she had painted above her as an imaginary "Heaven above." She is calm and serene and says these simple words, "The Holy Ghost is in the house! Amen." And she waits until the Spirit takes its time and tames itself.
That is how it is in a Holiness church.
This is the place where the BoBo lives.
Whenever I go to church, I think hard about what God has done for my life and how he continues to appear in my life, like a daily miracle. I think about the dreams and visions where He came to me and told me the things that I needed to hear. I think about how I got into the "Idol" audition when it wasn't even possible. I think about Zion and how she turned my "bad" act into a blessing. I think about my mother and how she has stood by me through everything. I think about how blessed I am to have her. I cry every time I think about my cousins, Kima and Kadijah, who don't have their mother, Aunt Rayda, anymore, because she was murdered. I think about my father and how he built my career by leading all of us kids to music. I think about the small, lopsided three-bedroom house at 511 Montlieu Avenue with all its memories of music, family, friends, and hunger … and how far we all have come. I think about all the places I have been to around the world. I think about how amazing it is that my singing got me out of High Point and out into the world. I think about the anointing I have with my voice and how powerful it is for others.
Thinkin' about all these things, I start to feel full. I feel full of pain and joy all at once. I feel regret for those who don't know about God's love. I feel proud that I do know His love firsthand. I think that there is evidence of Him everywhere. These thoughts and feelings come up like a wave. It's unexpected and I feel more tears coming. I feel my mouth twisting up to hide the wail inside my soul. These thoughts cause me to shake with excitement and gratitude. I think of my amazement at all the blessings that have come to me, a girl who was undeserving so many times, but God continued to give me chances time and time again. I feel a tightness in my body. I feel like I'm going to burst with joy and gratitude. These feelings cause me to rise out of my seat. I start to shake myself away from earthly concerns and worries. Standing in the church, my mind travels to a private place and I feel like I'm no longer there.
What brings me back to the church is the young people who seem bored and uninterested in church. Many young people who I have met and even some of my old friends seem ashamed to show off their faith in God, which has always been so natural to me that I can't really understand them. They seem embarrassed to flaunt their relationship with God. Most young people would much rather talk about their relationship with a man or a woman. Most people would rather flaunt their new clothes or their new bling-bling. I always wonder why God is not worthy of praise and acknowledgment? Why are young people ashamed to show their faith? Take it from me – faith is really all you have.
Through lots of patience, God has shown me how to use my precious gift of music. It was a difficult journey just to find the gift that God had already placed inside of me. He has done the same for you – he has given you an extraordinary gift. You just have to have faith and he will lead you to it.
Excerpted with permission from "Life Is Not a Fairy Tale," by Fantasia. Published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2005 by Fantasia.